Arsenal v. the mini-league: remarkable consistency since 2007-2008

2001-2002: Arsenal win the League

2002-2003: Arsenal finish second

2003-2004: Arsenal win the League

2004-2005: Arsenal win the FA Cup

2005-2006: Arsenal make the Champions League Final

2006-2007: Arsenal’s last season with Henry

2007-2008: Arsenal nearly win the League, Eduardo’s leg broken by Taylor

2008-2009: May the fourth be with you, always

2009-2010: Arsenal sell Adebayor to City

2010-2011: Arsenal lose the League Cup final

2011-2012: Arsenal sell Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri

2012-2013: Arsenal sell van Persie to United

2013-2014: Arsenal win the FA Cup

2014-2015: Arsenal win the FA Cup

2015-2016: Leicester win the League

2016-2017: Arsenal season finishes in December

Remarkable consistency from Arsenal since 2007-2008.

Qq

Update: here’s how our rivals have fared on away games over the last 4 seasons.

The only good news there is that Tottenham are still in our shadow!

(image from Simon Gleave via Daniel Storey)

53 Comments on Arsenal v. the mini-league: remarkable consistency since 2007-2008

  1. What’s even more damning is that in Arsenal’s last 26 away matches against opponents Man U, Man City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, and Southampton they have only won 3 times and have taken a grand total of 18 points. Moreover, the Gunners have been outscored in those 26 matches 56-31. This is an ignominious record that no other top club shares.

    Arsenal are flat track bullies but if there are any hills in the way, the Gunners can’t pull their weight.

  2. I guess this is the end of the road for some fans with current Arsenal setup. Me and you included. Maybe a winning run might change that for a week maybe but it’s better to accept it. This is the end of the road for us.

    • I see some people are already reaching for that bottle of pills named Piers Morgan.

      What kills me is we eviscerate players who don’t show “heart” and “desire” and “commitment” but as fans we’re now in a full scale meltdown because we’ve suddenly lost back to back games. It’s stunningly hypocritical.

  3. First off, kudos for crystallizing Arsenal’s place in the contemporary scheme of things at the EPL top table in such a lucid manner. The tables presented speak volumes. However, one of the virtues of this blog has been plurality, a degree of inclusivity difficult to find elsewhere in the Arsenal blogosphere. Alas, some recent comments smack of smugness and one-upmanship. It is possible to argue, with the binoculars of facts, without seeming desperate to force a particular viewpoint down people’s throats. The desire, by different strands of the Arsenal fan spectrum, to secure a crushing victory over the other is worrisome and serves no practical purpose.

    • I suspect that stems from the bright line people have drawn over Arsene Wenger and the fact that people have been arguing over him non-stop for about the last 8 years. Even people with the best intentions can grow tired and slip into anger when faced with the same arguments over and over.

      Personally, I want him to retire. We are a huge club with huge resources and we will be huge after he retires. But I also love him and appreciate what he has done for the club. We wouldn’t be the huge club we are without Wenger. So I often straddle both the AKB and WOB lines. It’s also the way I approach life in general. I try to see all sides of the story.

      But I’m also not above a smug remark every once in a while. Especially when people keep hammering the same lines every day.

    • “Personally, I want him to retire. We are a huge club with huge resources and we will be huge after he retires. But I also love him and appreciate what he has done for the club. We wouldn’t be the huge club we are without Wenger. So I often straddle both the AKB and WOB lines. It’s also the way I approach life in general. I try to see all sides of the story.”

      I’ll frame and keep that. Some of the people who are critical of Wenger of late are among those who love and appreciate him the most. That’s not a paradox.

  4. The tables illustrate in stark terms what is already public knowledge, namely that Arsenal lost its mojo, its big game mentality, in the second half of Wenger’s reign. One can speculate on a number of plausible reasons for this: too rapid a break-up of the Invincibles, the inability to recruit battle hardened and star quality players, recurrent injuries to key players meaning they’re usually unavailable for the big games,and poor tactical preparation and reactive game-management. We might also add the very insecure and fractured fan-base that fails to consistently give full-on support, who knows? Arsenal’s tendency to do better in away matches, over the past few seasons, certainly suggests that the current playing staff seem to be inhibited, paralyzed even, by the Emirates crowd. Whatever the reasons, it’s reasonable to expect that a manager with unrivalled power at his club (like Wenger)should be able to do a forensic audit and identify the reason(s) for what looks like a consistent inability to perform on the big stage regardless of a significant turnover of playing personnel and the acquisition of a unique club-owned football statistical company (StatDNA). Wenger has always told us that when he feels he can no longer live up to the expectations of the club, he’ll have the courage and altruism to quit. He’s a gentleman and clearly loves the club so I believe him. As an aside, it’s curious that most of his contemporaries have either retired or are in backwater leagues/national team management earning a fat cheque: Fabio Capello, Luis Felipe Scolari, Marcelo Lippi, Otto Rehaggel, Sven Goran Ericson, Vicente del Bosque, Hector Cuper, Otmar Hitzfeld, George Graham, Harry Redknapp, and Gerard Houillier. It’s actually extraordinary that he’s still managing at this level. Is his current level good enough for Arsenal? The answer is open to debate. “Facts are facts and will not change on account of your likes”- Jawarhal Nehru. Whatever happens, we must remember him for the exceptional work of his prime. No amount of revisionism will take away the quality of his earlier work. It’s distasteful to denigrate or diminish it in light of recent events. None of us is timeless. But certain achievements are.

    • He deserves to go on his terms….that said we are no worst than 4th, whatever the stats prove…..He is the manager of one of the best clubs in the world and alot of others wish they were.

    • I had typed out a long (and mostly incoherent comment) but I decided to discard it to just second what you said.

      I will add that I don’t understand why for the last 5 years or so, every single loss has to be turned into a debate on Wenger’s future, and an existential crisis for Arsenal.

      And while I think I understand it, I cannot agree with the eagerness to write off the season at this stage, past record notwithstanding.

      • I’m not eager to write off the season but it would take an epic comeback, PLUS an epic collapse from all the teams above us, for Arsenal to win the League right now.

        As for the responses? I think it has to do with the manner of our defeats in these big games and especially in this last game. Arsenal are just so overwhelmed by opposition like PSG, Liverpool, Man U, and now City that we get thrown for a loop.

        Basically, it’s because we had hope and faith and belief in the team and that was all stripped bare. If we all could have Bunburyists approach, that fourth place is where we belong in the universe, then we wouldn’t have these highs and lows.

        And just to put it in reverse: didn’t you get high hopes that we would win the league when we were top? That’s the exact same overreaction, just in an opposite direction. I think if you think of it that way, you probably understand why some of us are so pessimistic right now.

        • I did think of it that way Tim. But the difference is that in my view, fans are supposed to believe that their team can go on and win it. What’s the point otherwise of watching at all? I’ve been watching for almost 20 years and I still look forward to every game and expect us to win it. And I’m disappointed when we lose. I’ve lived through the same disappointments as you. Maybe it’s a difference in when and how we started watching. There was hardly any coverage or internet when I started. So you had to work hard to watch games, didn’t have the media setting talking points, and nobody to discuss it with. Maybe that affects how I deal with the pain and disappointments that come with following Arsenal.

          I’m not preaching about not letting go till it’s mathematically impossible because it doesn’t work like that. I just disagree that it’ll need to be anything epic. A week ago we were going along decently well. Look at how it’s changed. It can change for other teams too. It did for City earlier in the season. It can for Chelsea.

          Can we capitalise would be the question. We’re low on confidence right now, but as your table shows us as flat track bullies, maybe we could eke out results in the next few games while our rivals play each other over a busy period. After that, who knows?

          I will agree that it is worrying and annoying that we can’t seem to control the ball, nor the pace of the game, against good sides, or good pressure. It’s not a good look and goes against the identity Wenger has built for us over the years. The players are technically good enough to play well under pressure (and occasionally they show it) So yeah, that’s something that needs to be addressed.

          • Nope.

            I started watching Arsenal on Fox Sports World in the 90s. I live in a town where there was no EPL coverage much less someone to talk to about football. I also didn’t really do the internet/blog thing with football until probably 2004/5. I saw my first Arsenal match live in 2006. We have similar paths. I’m just naturally pessimistic.

          • That made me laugh. Not sure why. But fair enough. I was only looking for an explanation of why we see this differently. Over the years, I’ve been surprised by how similarly we view a lot of things.

            By the way, is it possible to be naturally optimistic but cynical? Or is that a contradiction? Just wondering because I think I’m very cynical about things usually but I still feel optimistic about most of it. (Except the state of my country right now, but I think here we might share the same feeling)

  5. Great work as always Tim but saying stuff like ‘Can’t wait to see how this is given a positive spin.’ might not be the best way to encourage dialogue or debate. It gives the impression that you don’t want any replies that aren’t of a similar downbeat tone.

  6. “One can speculate on a number of plausible reasons for this”……The responsibility for all the possible reasons you gave, arguably bar one – the last one, lies with Monsieur Wenger. While this does not consign his past successes to the dustbin, it does increase the chances that a whole generation (or two) will recall him more for the second less glorious half of his reign.

    Until it was pointed out yesterday how abysmal our (his) record against the top teams has been, I believed he still had a title in him…….that hope/fantasy collapsed yesterday. I knew it will be the basis for an article possibly today or later this week. With this data, that hope seems to be dead. But hey Trump won……..

  7. There is another, subtle, correlation here that some may or may not have picked up on: It’s the loss of strikers which seems to predicate Arsenal’s drop in form against big clubs.

    After Henry, after Eduardo, after Adebayor, after RvP… each one dropped us further down.

  8. I’m not sure what these tables prove that we didn’t already know. Arsenal aren’t what they were during Wenger’s glory years? We struggle against title rivals? Mind blown. I guess it does reinforce a sense of impending doom and desolation, if that’s what you were after.

    Maybe in your next blog you could upload a video of kittens being drowned just to make us all feel even worse about an already bad defeat. Or maybe round up all the mean things people have tweeted about Arsenal this week and make a blog about that. Just trying to help out.

    In all seriousness, I love the blog but I don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish when you post stuff like this.

    • I guess the point was that how we perform in the mini-league pretty much predicts where we’ll end up in the table itself (i.e., we’re flat track bullies?).

      I guess what is mind blowing is that the pattern is so obvious, and so clear for all to see, and yet people seem to believe that things will be magically different this season! So yeah, it is kind of a “Wenger’s done” argument. I know this isn’t your thing, so I get why you got all sarcastetchy in your response.

      My new zen realization is “I don’t care”! In fact, keep Wenger. I’m like a zoo animal. You remember those arguments about why zoos are supposedly awesome for animals, right? Predictability. I get three square meals a day, and I don’t have to chase anybody or fight anybody for them. And yet, and yet, the part of about losing fur, the dull eyes, and the loony bin. Ay, there’s the rub. The analogy has reached an unfortunate conclusion.

      Um, so, you know we all die, right? There was a band called Travis who were mildly entertaining in the early 00’s, and who wrote a song called “Pipe Dreams.” Sing it with me: “whether you win or you lose isn’t going to change a single thing,” etc.

      I think I’m slowly talking myself out of being a sports fan… Following Arsenal truly has been a spiritual journey, and it wouldn’t have been if they hadn’t been so predictable the last decade. Soon we will welcome another religious festival: The February Wallow, when we will give up something we love so as to remind ourselves what’s truly important in life. Then we celebrate the March Surge, when we will celebrate how beautiful and good one can be when there really is nothing at stake. Perhaps the meaning, the purpose of Arsenal, after all, is that it models a morality that can co-exist with nihilism.

      And yet, and yet, transcendence. Arsenal have taught me that when somewhat enjoyable Travis talks of winning and losing, they are referring to a materialist economy. For God, winning and losing might mean different things. Perhaps to lose is to win. The first shall be fourth, and the fourth shall be first. Arsenal is a modern-day parable, my friends.

      • Where was the mini league table last week? It was just as applicable after we beat Stoke and hadn’t lost in the league in 3 months. It’s not a new concept and it’s particularly unhelpful after two bad results. As is all the moaning and groaning going on around here. We’re so spoiled, we hardly care to talk about wins because they’re what we expect. Then when we lose a game, it’s like the someone let the Four Horseman loose and we rediscover with wide eyed panic that Wenger and his teams, are in fact, flawed like they have always been, and that sports teams occasionally lose games, and that in a field with a lot of good teams it’s hard to win championships. Bunburyist, you may be talk yourself out of being a sports fan. I’m talking myself out of being on sports blogs. Specifically, this one, since it’s the only one I ever visit.

        • Doc, being a sports fan is really a difficult thing. We all have different coping mechanisms. I, for instance, love football because of its emphasis on teamwork and its clear susceptibility to the same capricious variables many of us experience in real life. So, sport for me is a mirror of life, the real life, not fantasy, not Football Manager. Winning is important but not as important as the emotional and other investments that go into winning…or losing. When we invest so much in real life and lose, do we give up on ourselves or the people we love and support? I find that I can only enjoy sport if I’m genuinely invested in it. I’ll only get truly irate about something I’m in a position to directly change, not the one I can’t. When a patient dies despite the doctor’s best efforts, should it stop him from giving his best to a future patient with a similarly dire prognosis? Does he stop investing his time and emotion on patient care because he’s afraid to lose yet again? Even when he loses, he always learns. He enjoys his work because he knows that, although he will surely lose many times, the victories will outstrip the losses and serve as a platform for sharpening the taste of victory. That’s my attitude to Arsenal and to sport. Never become indifferent to possibility.

      • It’s ironic that Doc challenges Bunburyist, the one person trying to maintain the level-headedness he advocates. 🙂

        I guess what he really wants is for us all to stop criticising Arsene.

        The mini-league table, btw, doesn’t apply to Stoke, who are not habitual top 6 finishers. That is why it wasn’t around last week.

        There’s a pattern here to Arsene’s teams for 10 years now, and a pointer to why this 9 point gap may be insurmountable and more than mathematical.

        I don’t think it’s unexpected for supporters of this football club to expect to challenge for the title, and to express frustration when old failings resurface.

        • If I read him right, he is not advocating level headedness, he’s describing his own state of dystopian apathy. That may be different from the wildly oscillating and now suddenly catastrophic mood around here but I don’t find it agreeable. I think Tochokwu’s comment about the joy of possibilities was targeted more at that than my ascerbic condemnations of the unfaithful.

          Believe me I fully expect this every time we lose. My edge comes from years of conditioning to expect it. It’s not any easier to look on as the years pass. That’s why I’m contemplating retirement from here, again. You may find fickleness justifiable but I do not.

          • When we lost to Everton I think I said it was a closer game than other people made it out to be. I don’t remember suggesting that we had lost the title. In fact, I was big on our chances to beat City.

            But we didn’t. We got badly manhandled. So, just like last season when I thought we were going to win the League and then we imploded, I’m hugely disappointed.

            And I do think, and so does Guardiola, that a 9 point deficit half-way through the season means that the title race is effectively over. Obviously, anything can happen. Leicester won the League last year!

          • I was and am unbothered by the Everton result, and I said so at the time. It was disappointing, but it’s not uncommon in the premier league. And that’s the beauty of it.

            You’re right where that is concerned. There was no cause for handwringing then.

            There is cause for concern now, for reasons that have been articulated to death. The Marcus Rashford game at Old Trafford felt season-defining, and this one does too. I could be wrong. I hope so. There’s plenty of the season left.

            You’re a scientist, and one of the smartest people I have the pleasure of reading in sporting fandom in any comments section anywhere. Yet you do not want to see or consider the abundantly clear empirical evidence.

          • Actually, all joking aside, I am advocating levelheadedness, but I’m saying that my own sense of equanimity is coming from a position of accepting that we’re a good team, not a great team…which I suppose is a tacit criticism of Wenger, since I see him as the common denominator of our predictability. But honestly, I’m pretty happy with fourth, or whatever. If Wenger stays, cool, let’s just keep this train chugging along. If not, cool, let’s see if we can do better.

    • It’s just data Doc. Yesterday a weird thing from Sky Sports went around saying that Wenger had won 0 of his last 21 away games against top six opp. I thought that was weird, so I looked it up and it’s not true, we have won 3 (Liverpool, Spurs, and City). But I also wanted to see what our larger historical context was and also thought it was a bit unfair to only look at away games. So, I compared them all across the seasons from Wenger’s second double to this season. I have had a feeling that we have struggled with big clubs in the last 10 years but no evidence. As you know, I try to side with evidence.

      It looks like we have been struggling against top teams since we lost van Persie and that from 2007/08 we have been pretty poor in the mini-Leagues. At least consistently within a few points per game of each other regardless of personnel.

  9. We’ve been down this road so often it’s beyond tiresome. The “Mini-League” table exposes us to the reality of Wenger’s Arsenal these last few years: With the odd exception, we cannot beat Big Teams and this season has proved no different. You can mention Chel$ki sure, but could we beat them today, now that Conte has them well sorted?

    I’m in awe of Wenger, Wenger is a Great Man. I’ll always believe that just as I believe that great men must step aside when their time is done. By all means, let him dictate the means of his departure – I would expect nothing less – but please, we need to this sooner than later.

    Who comes after may never be as dapper, erudite, intellectual or nearly as interesting but hopefully he’ll have new, workable ideas and an ability to inject this hugely talented group of young men with whatever they need to be real title contenders again.

    “Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
    Too noble to neglect
    Deceived me into thinking
    I had something to protect
    Good and bad, I define these terms
    Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
    Ah, but I was so much older then
    I’m younger than that now”
    (My Back Pages, Bob Dylan)

  10. What I find ironic is that, as beautifully painted by Tim in his “Four seasons of Wenger” piece, Wenger is not the fossilized monolith he is popularly perceived to be nowadays. He has clearly made efforts to adapt to the shifting sand around him but, although our league position has been improving year on year for about three seasons now, we’re yet to hit the sweet spot, yet to see another eureka moment for this embattled French philosopher. Personally, I feel sad that he abandoned the aggressive but skilled physicality template of the Invincibles in search of the Holy Grail of the Champions’ League. That has put Arsenal in a purgatorial halfway house: not good enough in and out of possession to realistically challenge for the UCL, and not steely enough to last the course in the EPL. It’s amusing, in a wistful way, but when I see Pochettino’s Spurs, I see a faint and increasing reflection of how Wenger’s best teams were: big, athletic, powerful, fast, and with stamina to burn. Although significantly less creative than Wenger’s best sides of old, their pride in defending and their youthfulness mean that they probably have a better chance, as things stand, of winning the EPL than Arsenal…which is remarkable, considering the disparity in finances and pound-for-pound A-list talent between the two clubs. This issue of fuzzy Arsenal identity therefore needs to be resolved, whether by the current regime or another, in order to break the cycle of under-achievement. We were once a side capable of mixing sophistication with intimidation. Then we became never-graduating postulants at Barcelona’s temple of culture. Now, what are we?

    • I think that part of Wenger’s problem and gift is that he is slow to change. So, this is fantastic in that it breeds stability, players know he’s going to give them chances and that he will be there for them over the long haul. But this also manifests as a lack of ability to adapt and change on the fly and big clubs with big managers have to be able to do that. You can’t just play one style of football for 38 games anymore. You have to be able to adapt in the game situation. Guardiola is in a way Wenger’s opposite here. He is full of ideas and not at all afraid to try them. This means sometimes that he’s a bit crazy. But when it works, like it did on the weekend when he put two players in at #10, it’s pretty mesmerizing.

      Wenger can change from season to season but, just like his substitution patterns, he struggles (I think) ingame.

      • This is a really good point. I think it’s one part a lack of ability (Wenger isn’t stupid tactically, but he’s obviously not the best at figuring stuff out and making big decisions on the fly in the middle of games) and one part a philosophical choice by Wenger that goes to something deep in his style of managing and that really sets him apart from most other top managers. We’ll never know how much this stability has helped his players perform well over the years (it may have been what helped us avoid disaster in some of those distinctly dodgy seasons and always have enough to rally and stay in the top four), but at times it feels like it’s definitely led to dropped points because Wenger waits so long to change a system when it is pretty clearly not working (I don’t mean in the middle of a game, but over a run of games), and those dropped points may have cost us the title, or at least a really close title run-in, at some point. I know last season we were hamstrung by injuries and lack of the right players in certain positions (though of course the latter is AW’s fault), but I still think if he had done more to address our form earlier, say in January when we were pretty clearly not playing well, we may have avoided the late season collapsed and pipped Leicester (I know we all said it at the time, but the difficulty of this year’s league just makes the bitterness of us screwing up last year’s chance all the more bitter).

        But he does change his systems/personnel (or at least tweak them) in the middle of seasons, e.g. witness the change two years ago when he brought Coquelin into the team, moved Cazorla into deep midfield, and started playing Ramsey from the right. And here’s why there might be a silver lining to the last week: the last two games may have just been disastrous enough that even stubborn ol’ Arsene decides he needs to change things up, at least for the tough games, and this has happened early enough in the season that there’s still a chance (just about) that we can turn it around and challenge for the title. Personally, I think the big thing that Arsene needs to address is how to deal with the high press, especially in these big away matches against good sides. Pretty much every good team is doing it against us now (just like a few years back everyone was sitting deep and looking to counter), and we look truly awful at dealing with it (though it should be noted that Mustafi’s passing was conspicuous by its absence against Liverpool, Everton, and City). I think we need to start by trying a 4-3-3 in these situations with three dedicated central midfielders, but that’s just me. Also, it would help if we responded by pressing these teams right back. Also, one idea (that I don’t personally love, but it’s at least an attempt to address the issue) is to start Giroud in these sorts of games and have our tactic be to play long to avoid the press, and then look to start playing our clever skillful football from much further up the pitch (if memory serves, this is how Mourinho addressed Spurs’s press recently).

  11. Great analogies bunburyist!
    Now if you could explain if there are deeper meanings to your username, please.
    Oh Arsene, oh arsenal.

    • I’m so glad you asked, Kafkush, because I take every opportunity I can to tell the world how deep I am. In “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Oscar Wilde’s Algernon coins the term “Bunburyist” to refer to someone who invents excuses to avoid social or familial responsibility, which is what I’m doing right now in participating in an ultimately meaningless discussion about a game.

  12. Lots of really good comments on here today. Here are some of my thoughts:

    1. First off, I think, Tim, you’re overreacting when you say it would take an “epic collapse from all the teams above us” for us to win the league. Today, City are two points above us and Liverpool are three!!! Neither of them would have to collapse, much less do so epically, for us to be a little better than them from here on out and finish above them (fwiw, I expect us to finish above Liverpool, not so much City). The only team who would really have to collapse now are Chelsea, and I agree they’re definitely favorites and we’re big underdogs now, but as others have said, a lot can change in a short amount of time. Small margins and all that. 9 points is significant but it’s not really daunting just yet, not with so much of the season to go (the biggest gap I personally can remember being overcome was the 12 points Newcastle had over Man United in 95-96, and I think that was even a bit later in the season, like the beginning of January). I think the reason it feels daunting is because of how impressive (at least in terms of results) Chelsea have been, but they cannot keep it up all season. Their form will dip, they will drop points at some point, and then it’s a question of which teams can take advantage. I’m not holding my breath that it’ll be Arsenal, but stranger things have happened…

    2. Reading Tochukwu’s earlier comment about recent comments on here involving regrettable “smugness and one-upmanship”, I felt a bit convicted: I know I’m fairly new to this blog, and I feel like my tone and attitude in some of my posts recently has involved a rude streak that I’m not proud of or comfortable with. We all know the anonymity of the internet brings out the worst in people, and when that’s combined with the testosterone-infused frustration of sports (and what sporting activity could possibly be more frustrating than following Arsenal?), it leads to varying degrees of online ugliness, at least in me. Part of the explanation, too, is that I’m using commenting about Arsenal as a release valve from the frustrations of my personal life. Basically I’ve spent a decade of my life collecting various prestigious graduate degrees only to now be discovering that those degrees don’t seem to be much help in getting me an academic job in my chosen field. So I’m sure I come across as smug on here at times because my sense of my own intelligence in my real life has felt threatened lately. Anyway, that’s more than enough self-psychoanalyzing for today; the point is just that I’m going to endeavor to be more generous and polite on here, because you all deserve respect, even if I’m convinced I’m right and others’ comments continue to frustrate the hell out of me.

    3. I had some further thoughts, but that’s probably enough for one comment…

    • The academic job market is a crapshoot. I’m genuinely sorry to hear about your troubles. You’re not alone, but it’s hard not to take it personally (seriously, it isn’t). I was on the market for three years before I got a tenure-track position. Those were difficult years.

  13. A few more thoughts:
    1. I still think (I’m disagreeing with Claudeivan again here, but he’ll be used to that by now) the Everton game was the more damaging result of the two. Even setting aside the possible damage it did to our confidence going into the City match, the main point is simply that getting the 3 points in that game was much, much easier than it was ever going to be against Guardiola’s City at home. Remember, Everton’s confidence was shattered after a bad losing streak culminating in a terrible loss to Watford. We went ahead at Everton and then just coasted. It was ridiculous. Sitting there watching it was SO frustrating. Yes, they upped their intensity a little bit right away, but we just acted like we weren’t interested in playing the rest of the game and couldn’t-the-ref-just-award-us-the-three-points-after-25-minutes-thank-you-very-much. Simple passes were ignored in favor of poor attempts at difficult ones. Everyone just ambled around. Cohesion and team work and communication utterly went out the window. We were second to pretty much every loose ball. Then and only then, after about 35-40 minutes, when it became clear to them that we were more than happy to give them a chance to get back into the game, did Everton really start looking up for it and their crowd got into it. I’m not excusing the City performance, which was mostly a shambles and very disappointing, but City, even without several players, are still bloody good, especially in midfield, and, as has been pointed out, we’re really struggling against high pressing right now, especially without Cazorla and Mustafi (Everton were pressing us too, but not in such a way that our greater quality shouldn’t have been able to get around it).
    If we had picked up three points at Everton, the City game would still have been a big blow, still raised questions about our ability to beat the top sides, etc, but we’d also still be one point ahead of City, tied on points with Liverpool, and only six behind Chelsea. The performance would look like a blip (and an understandable one at that) in the context of a long unbeaten run in which (contrary to what some are saying) we HAVE looked pretty decent, for the most part better than we looked all of last season or even the last couple of seasons. But the Everton game changed the context. The extra loss turns a single blip into a crisis.

    2. The comparison with the Old Trafford game from last season is also an interesting one. As bad as that game was (and it was BAD), and as important as it was in basically turning the entire Arsenal fan base against the team and against the idea that we had any chance in the league, I always thought that the really damaging game was again NOT the high profile encounter, but the midweek Swansea home game a few days later. Swansea were a bad team in terrible form, rested several of their best players, we were at home, took the lead, and then contrived to play terribly, let them back into it, and let them win in the most disheartening manner. It was almost a work of art in terms of how excruciating it was to watch as an Arsenal fan.
    That, plus, only getting 1 point in the NLD that weekend in a winnable game, turned a disappointing setback against Man United into a bona fide crisis, wiped out all the momentum we had gained from our last-minute win against Leicester, and made our chances of finishing above them a serious long shot.
    In fact, if you go back and look at the points we dropped in very winnable games against pretty weak opposition (we had a pretty easy run-in last season) AFTER the Old Trafford loss, you get:
    Loss to Swansea
    Draw with West Ham (after coasting to a 2-0 lead until right before halftime)
    Draw with Palace
    Draw with Sunderland

    We also drew away to City (a decent result) and I’ve left out the Spurs game, since, in spite of us leading before Coquelin’s red card, that was always going to be a tough game and the draw wasn’t a bad result. So that’s a loss and three draws for a total of 9 POINTS(!) dropped against very, very easy opposition (West Ham were good last year but we were in complete control in that match and then imploded). We eventually lost to Leicester by 10 points.

    Let that sink in: in spite of the epic no-show at Old Trafford (and several other poor results post-Christmas leading up to that game), and in spite of all the complaints that we’re only flat-track bullies, if we had picked ourselves up after that United loss and just done what flat track bullies are supposed to do and won those four games we would have come within 1 POINT of Leicester!! And, of course, this is pure speculation, but if we had been breathing down their necks the whole time, it’s very possible that they would have felt the pressure and dropped a few more points, as they had a lot of close wins in that run (and if we had been within 1 point of Leicester, having won all those games, it may have given us just the impetus we needed to win against an average Man City side). Instead, it was obvious to Leicester and everyone else that we were done.
    In short, what lost us a realistic shot at the title wasn’t the game at Old Trafford, but our reaction to it. Lessons for the home game against West Brom next week…

    • Yes, absolutely. Great point. One loss didn’t wreck our chances last season. And we must not let these two bad games wreck the rest of our season. Maybe Arsenal don’t make it to the top, but I think everyone would like to see us make a fight of it. So can we, the team and the fans alike, show that fight? I think the next 6 league games are very important. Win them all ( or maybe one draw?) and I expect us to be closer to the top, with the opportunity to beat Chelsea just after.

      I also agree with your response to Tim about Wenger’s managerial style. I think it is sometimes frustrating (and does cost us points) that he doesn’t change it up from time to time, but I also think that’s what has led to the stability even during our most difficult years, gaining us points over the season too.

      As you also pointed out, he does change systems. I doubt he’ll change the system just yet. My reading of it was that the performance was flat rather than there being a systemic flaw. (He does do minor tweaks in game) That might be related to fatigue – physical or mental. I’d play Holding and Perez at least. I do like your idea of a 433 but I think it needs Ramsey fit and focused to make it work. Elneny can do the running, but higher up the field? I don’t know. Maybe he can score like against Barcelona.

      • I don’t think major surgery is required on our formation either, except against the top teams and/or tough away games when it’s likely the opposition are going to try to press us (e.g. Everton). I think we were flat (and are missing key players), but the complete failure to hold onto the ball (remember, this is Arsenal, famously good at possession!) and transition up the field against the press is at least partly down to having only two central mids (one of whom is not super comfortable receiving the ball in deep areas from his defense), a number 10 who’s playing more like a false 9, and at least one wide man (Walcott) who, for all his improvements this year, is still pretty terrible at possession and building the play in tight spaces (Iwobi on the other side is an improvement in this regard over the Ox, but still can’t be counted on to make the difference at this point in his career). So, 4-3-3 addresses some of that. We’d still have to implement it well, put the effort in, and not play like a bunch of strangers, of course!
        4-3-3 is our best chance of getting the best out of Ramsey (if fit and in decent form), but I think in games like City away, I’d play with a midfield three even without Ramsey (or Cazorla), just for the cover. Against weaker opposition I think we could try Iwobi or the Ox in one of those spots, to have a bit more attacking impetus (they’d both have to work hard on that position on the training pitch!), or we could stick with the current formation. Honestly, now that we have a mobile centre forward, the switch between 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 wouldn’t be that dramatic for us, as the person who supposedly would get marginalized the most, Ozil, really wouldn’t have to be marginalized in a 4-3-3 with Sanchez up top. As others point out, he’d have the “Hazard role” or “Coutinho role” and with Sanchez (and Walcott, or Perez, or Welbeck, or whoever plays on the other flank) moving hither and thither, Ozil would have plenty of opportunities to take up central positions, but with much less responsibility than he currently has to fight it out in central midfield to get us up the pitch. I don’t think Ozil’s been as disastrous the last two games as some think, but what we’ve seen is a player who now functions (and presumably sees himself) as a forward rather than part of the midfield. We need Ozil to be a tad less of a forward, and Sanchez to conversely focus less on dropping deep and more on staying higher up where he hurts opposition the most, if we’re going to stick with this formation. And we need one wide man to do serious legwork helping out our midfield. Or, we need to change formations.

    • Good analysis. My point was that City, given the state they were in with suspensions, was a statement game. Everton was just one of the vagaries of the league. On any given day, a big team can lose to or draw with a mid-table team like West Brom. I don’t have the figures, but the anecdotal evidence is that it happens with much less frequency in the other main leagues.

      While the degree of difficulty of beating a Pulis team is lower than that of a Guardiola team, it does not always follow that “weaker” teams always represent winnable opposition. That, I’d concede, is debatable. What isn’t debatable is beating the big teams when they have less favourable conditions is a pointer to your readiness to claim the title. And Tim’s data shows that our record against the big teams is poor. I may be unusual in not being fazed by a loss to Everton, but very unhappy with how we lost to City. I know it seems paradoxical, but not to me.

      The counter-argument is that we are capable of statement games. We showed that against Chelsea. The data shows that those are rare occurrences. We seem to go to pieces when good team harry us. There was a spell against Liverpool on the opening day when it looked like they could score at will — albeit with Holding and Chambers in central defence.

      Again, i’m straying into a realm in which I’m not an expert, but looking at our rabbit in the headlights performance in the second half, I think that a major problem with recent Wenger teams is mental. They are much better players than the ones who couldn’t keep the ball for more than 3 passes, for 30 painful minutes.

  14. If Monreal’s marginal offside had not been spotted to make Iwobis goal stand, and if Sane’s marginal offside had been spotted instead, it would have been 2-1 in Arsenal’s favour, and all these thousands of words poured down here and the megatons of destructive emotions let loose, could not ever have come into being. Aren’t we so fickle.

    Even with the result as it is, amazing how the MOMENT dominates us so totally. We swing as hopelessly as the pendulum of a nineteen century clock, from hope to despair, joy to pain, a conqueror turned a vanquished. If only we can be stronger and let our swing be as tiny as the oscillating properties of a quartz crystal our vision would be purer. A tough field, not quite half of the season, 4th on the table, options still open. Period.

  15. We seem to struggle against teams that press us back, this is nothing new. Without Santi to evade the press, and Mustafi to pass out crisply from the back we could never get the ball out effectively. Coupled with the fact City saw much more of the ball, it seemed to knacker our midfield out chasing shadows. Monreal / Bellerin were leaving it to the midfielders to go to the ball. Gary Neville covers it here nicely from about 9:30 in this video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdCmrMT7IuI

    If we were trying to setup to counter, the players didn’t seem to be positioned to do it effectively. City did to us what we do to weaker sides – Pass it around, knacker them out, find a way through. The failings in the City game were tactical, that’s down to Wenger.

    Lets use this beating to galvanise the team and go on a run, a la Chelsea. If we win the next 6 games (which are all very winnable) things will look a LOT better.

    It will never happen, but I’d love to see a switch up in formation. Why not try a 3-5-2? Plays to a lot of the strengths of our current player Something like –

    Cech
    Mustafi Koscielny Monreal

    Bellerin Coquelin Xhaka Ox/Gibbs

    Walcott Sanchez Ozil

    Speedy wingbacks, an interchanging front three, Ozil in a free role similar to Hazard at Chelsea..

    • 1. I agree that Ozil would play the Hazard role (or Coutinho role), and that makes a lot of sense, especially now that we have a mobile center forward who will interchange positions (Liverpool and Chelsea have Firmino and Costa, both also very mobile) and Ozil has proven he can be very versatile in the sorts of runs he makes as well.
      2. I don’t see the advantage to playing 3-4-3 over 4-3-3 for this Arsenal side. It basically means sacrificing a central midfielder for an extra central defender, everything else staying exactly the same (especially if the two wingbacks are two of our fullbacks, and I can’t see the Ox nailing down the left wingback position on his weaker foot (RWB maybe, but that’s where we have Bellerin), so that leaves Gibbs on that side). So, in terms of changes in personnel from our current setup, I’m suggesting we bring in Ramsey or Elneny (or Iwobi or Ox) into central midfield, and you’re suggesting we bring Gibbs in and play Monreal in a back three. I think if we want to keep hold of the ball against the press, while looking solid defensively ourselves, adding the extra midfielder, rather than adding Gibbs, is the better bet (no offense Gibbo! I think he deserves a run in the side ahead of Monreal at this point).
      3. But the big reason to not go 3-4-3 is that it would represent a much bigger change in tactics in the middle of the season. I know it’s flavor of the month right now, but Arsene and Arsenal (and probably all of our current players) have basically never played a back 3 (at least going back to the mid 90s!), whereas Conte is very familiar with it from his time in Italy. So it could be very disruptive and take some adaptation time, which is the last thing we need right now. 4-3-3 is a much less radical change, and it’s a formation Wenger has tried in the recent past (e.g. when we won at the Etihad two years ago). The biggest change is to our attacking lineup, but as I mentioned above, the way Ozil and Sanchez are currently playing, I don’t think it would be much of a difference and could even give them more freedom.

    • By the way, that’s an awesome youtube clip from the Neviller, pointing something out that we fans would rarely notice in the course of a game (I certainly didn’t). It’s why, in spite of the fact he frustrates at times, he’s still one of the very best football commentators working in the media today. As much as we criticize our midfield, he’s basically shown that the rot started from our defense, and surely that’s down to Wenger to sort that out.

      • Agreed, a shift to a 3 man midfield incorporating Ramsey would give a lot more stability. Ramsey had a very good spell playing on the right, although Walcott has that nailed for now. Despite his poor managerial stint, I rate Neville’s insight and is a very good pundit.

  16. Great research as always Tim. We certainly have a bad history with the top teams recently and there’s no denying that.

    But should we expect to have better results against the top teams than teams with more resources like United and Chelsea and City? All things being equal I’d be expecting us to come 4th in a mini league between those teams. Doing better would be great of course.

    I know sweeping generalities are far too common online but I can’t help but think that a lot of people decrying the end of Arsenal’s season would, if asked, tell you that Liverpool are having a great season and are still in the title race despite being only 3 points better off.

    And as far as Chelsea are concerned, if they lose their next game and we win ours we’re 6 points behind and still have the chance of a game against them to come.

  17. Just want to respond to the “it’s just data” arguments for a second.

    It’s not just data. “Just data” is when you set out to collect something over time and then you write down what you found in a completely unbiased way that focuses on the facts and places the new piece of evidence in the context of what has come before it.

    When you go back in time to specifically find a piece of data to support an argument you’re already building, that’s called persuasive journalism, or an editorial. There’s nothing wrong with editorials but they shouldn’t be confused with science.

    • You are correct, of course. For data to be meaningful, it has to have context. Sometimes that context is bullshit tabloid stuff – like an arbitrary time period, or excluding things that shouldn’t be excluded.

      That being said, I see nothing wrong the data here. It isolates teams that have consistently finished at the top of the table, and shown how they have fared year on year. It goes back more than ten years. You could go back 20 years, but that would probably just show a rise and fall. This shows a consistent pattern, and it is not taken out of context. It makes a very strong point.

      Why now, instead of when we were winning? If Tim had posted this when we were on our 6 game unbeaten streak, would you have accused him of being a downer when the team looked very good, actually? Maybe you wouldn’t, but others would. It’s why bad stuff comes out after a bad result, and vice versa: a receptive audience.

  18. There’s a lot of graduate degrees on this blog. Add me to the list of PhDs going through the crapshoot right now.

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